From time to time, as we mooch around cities in western Europe we raise a glass to toast Thomas Jonglez – a man who took a decade to realize that a career in the steel trade was decidedly unsexy and in 2003 reinvented himself as a writer and publisher.
We first stumbled on Jonglez’ work in Brussels, when his guidebook Bruxelles Insolite et Secret led us to parts of the Belgian capital that lie well off the regular tourist trails.
The “secret” formula
Since then books from Jonglez Publishing have become firm favorites that give us a fresh perspective on some of the most celebrated cities on the west European tourist circuit. That first Brussels book included cameo accounts of factories and allotment gardens, and descriptions of intriguing toilets and apartment blocks, to complement more predictable Brussels fare such as art and architecture. And that first guide was quickly translated into English.
Subsequent Jonglez volumes follow the same formula, though as the series has evolved the company has placed more emphasis on the supposed authenticity derived from having local authors. “Local guides by local people,” runs the blurb on recent English-language volumes covering Rome, Madrid, Venice and London. So these guides are an antidote to globalization, a chance to pause and take note of what is peculiarly distinctive about the cities covered by Jonglez guides.
This is a marvelous series of books. They are all impeccably researched and well-illustrated, with little inset boxes succinctly explaining the background to the various sights. We learned, for example, why there are so many crêperies in Montparnasse and why so many Paris theaters lie north of the Grands Boulevards.
And it is not as if the Jonglez guides neglect to mention more established sights. It is merely that they reach the parts of European cities that other guides simply ignore. And the books are hugely effective in endowing the reader with a sense of having privileged access to areas of European cities that lie well beyond the regular tourist haunts.
So we must confess that, when recently in Paris, we skipped the Mona Lisa and instead followed the call of Jacques Garance and Maud Ratton, authors of Secret Paris, to see the only level crossing in Paris, visit an Antoinist temple and discover a pagoda converted to a cinema.
Éditions Jonglez publish English-language city guides covering Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Florence, Geneva, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Paris, Rome and Venice. They also have area guides to the French Riviera, Tuscany and Provence.
The books are titled Secret Amsterdam, Secret Barcelona, etc. Additional titles are available in French, and some books have been translated into Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch. In the USA the books are distributed by Globe Pequot Press.